Speed Reads

Through the Looking Glass

Watch a BBC newscaster explain the U.S. ivermectin boom to a British audience

BBC News broadcaster Ros Atkins presented a seven-minute rundown this week of the surge in the off-label use of ivermectin to treat or try and prevent COVID-19, mostly in the U.S. It's "fascinating" to watch this outside look at "the U.S. ivermectin craze," Dr. Bob Wachter at U.C. San Francisco tweeted Thursday, adding that Atkins "plays it [straight-ish], but you can imagine what would be in a thought bubble."

"In the U.S., a drug called ivermectin is being touted as a way of treating and preventing COVID-19, despite a lack of evidence to back this up," Atkins said. "Ivermectin is cheap, it's widely available, its makers won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine for how it treats parasitic diseases in humans. It's also used as a dewormer for horses, and the advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, is clear" — it isn't approved for COVID-19.

The FDA's increasingly urgent "intervention was prompted by an increase in sales of ivermectin" at pet and feed stores, Atkins said. "And look at this: According to the U.S. National Poison Data System, there was a 245 percent jump in reported exposure cases from July to August. In other words, these are people who've taken ivermectin and become ill."

For these people and others, "it seems either the distinction between the products for humans and animals is not registering, or some people don't mind," Atkins said. "And to understand why ivermectin has become bound up in the pandemic, we need to go back to last year," and early research that has led nowhere yet. 

Some U.S. doctors are prescribing ivermectin anyway, "and it's clear that many of those who are turning to ivermectin despite a lack of evidence are turning away from the COVID vaccines, despite a lot of evidence," Atkin concludes. "All of which means that as case numbers in the U.S. have risen through the summer, so has interest in ivermectin. It's a story about some Americans' response to COVID, but it's also a story about the erosion of trust in politics and in science, and how that erosion has led some people to conclude that this drug is what they need — even, in some cases, the version of it that's for horses." Watch his full report below, including his attempt to say "y'all" and his winking fact check of Australian tennis player Pat Cash.